Following a rebuke by Ukraine’s president, one local official is urging San Jose to break with its sister city in Russia.
San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas has vowed to resubmit her proposal to cut San Jose’s ties with Ekaterinburg, Russia after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called out San Jose at a conference of U.S. mayors on Friday for continuing its sister city relationship. Zelensky wants San Jose and other cities to isolate Russia.
“Please don’t let those who became murderers call your cities their sister cities,” Zelensky said. “Some of the deadliest Russian rockets are designed and manufactured in Ekaterinburg, which still remains the sister city of San Jose.”
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on March 22 to sever its sister county/city relationship between Santa Clara County and Moscow. The San Jose City Council decided not to do so earlier that month. Instead, it decided to send a letter of peace and support, encouraging Ekaterinburg residents to stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A sister city is a long-term partnership between two communities in two countries, according to Sister Cities International. Sister cities were initially created in the 1950s to foster peace, but can also promote tourism, trade, educational and cultural exchanges and projects. San Jose has at least eight sister cities, including Okayama, Japan and Dublin, Ireland.
Arenas said ending the city’s formal diplomatic relationship with Russia’s municipal government in Ekaterinburg would be a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the people of Ukraine. San Jose is home to more than 4,000 Ukrainian people. More than 20,000 Ukrainians live in the Bay Area.
“It’s not every day that a president of another country calls out your specific city,” she told San José Spotlight. “He asks us not to make excuses and not allow for Russia to continue to say or feel or reflect to their residents that they’re not isolated.”
Arenas said the mayor and City Council wanted to preserve the sister city relationship and continue communication with the people of Ekaterinburg, but it’s more important to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. She will submit a request to the city’s Rules and Open Government Committee and if passed, the issue will return to the City Council for a vote this month.
“It’s appropriate for us to end it now and begin a sister city with Ukraine,” she said.
Mayor Sam Liccardo said in March that the United States Conference of Mayors issued a resolution condemning the Russian atrocities in Ukraine, but recommended continuing sister city relationships that could encourage protest and dissent in Russia.
Nataliya Anon, co-founder of nonprofit Hromada, which sends funds to the Ukraine, said keeping the sister city relationship shows affinity. She said rockets manufactured in Ekaterinburg are being shot at maternity wards and schools, killing civilians and children.
“It’s up to the council to look in the mirror,” Anon said. “Do they want to maintain a sister relationship with a city making the bombs that are bombing Ukraine?”
Mikola “Nick” Bilogorskiy, founder of nonprofit Nova Ukraine, which provides humanitarian aid, said San Jose should terminate its sister city relationship as soon as possible.
“I find it shameful and disgusting we have maintained the sister city relationship with Ekaterinburg, Russia,” he said, “in spite of not only the war Russia is waging in Ukraine, but the war crimes and genocide of the Ukrainian people.”
While Bilogorskiy has seen an outpouring of support of more than 100,000 donations to Nova Ukraine, he’d like San Jose to dissolve any contracts and partnerships it might have with Russia. He would like to see San Jose initiate sister city relationships with Ukrainian cities, including its second largest city of Kharkiv, the current front of the war zone and his native home.
Arenas said she is confident that between the atrocities of Bucha and Mariupol, the broad international effort to isolate Russia and Zelensky’s request to San Jose, the mayor and her colleagues must reconsider.
“Hopefully, we can take another stab at this,” she told San José Spotlight, “knowing the type of genocide and atrocities Russia has committed against the Ukraine. It is more than just a symbol to Ukraine.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]